When your middle-schooler announces she has a “boyfriend,” here’s what it really means—and why you should take a deep breath before grounding her until she’s 21.

By Lisa Lombardi
February 15, 2018

Hearing your 11-year old announce that she has a boyfriend (or he has a girlfriend, or, frankly, any other combination) ranks right up there as a major parental WTF moment. How did this happen? Wasn’t she just playing with Barbies? Where does a kid who’s at least five years away from driving go on a date, anyway?

It’s normal to feel a bit blindsided by this parenting rite of passage, but keep in mind that the first boyfriend or girlfriend is usually a mutual crush, not a hot-and-heavy romance, says Julie Hanks, PhD, a family therapist in Salt Lake City, UT. As my friend Kara, who has 12- and 9-year-old daughters, says, “These relationships are beyond fleeting, and they seem to result in no actual interaction.”

Here, some strategies that will help you stay supportive when you’re freaking out inside:

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